Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






The assassination of the Duke of Buckingham by Felton, which occurred at Portsmouth during his preparation for a second attempt to relieve the Hugonots in Rochelle, in 1628, was at first supposed by the court, to be connected with some general conspiracy, arising from the discontents of the nation. The arbitrary and violent counsels of Buckingham had, at this early period of Charles I.'s reign, excited a spirit of great and deep-seated indignation; and although Felton's act was committed out of personal revenge, for the refusal of promotion when serving in the Duke's previous expedition, it was deemed advisable to make a searching investigation into all the details of the murder, and for this purpose he was brought up to the Tower.

At this period an examination in the Tower was invested with a certain mystery, connected with the known existence of the rack in its gloomy dungeons; and though that dreadful engine had again and again been declared illegal, yet it was little more than twenty years since its terrible powers had been employed, in endeavours


to extort confessions from Guy Fawkes. The act of Felton was one, which might be regarded as warranting any means within the limits of custom, if not of law, for arriving at the truth. But on following out the examination, it soon appeared that, although he had excused the deed to his conscience as the justifiable destruction of an enemy to public liberty, yet that revenge for not receiving the promotion he believed to be due to his military conduct, had been his real and only motive, and that he had neither accomplices nor instigators. Felton was tried before a common jury; and as he neither denied the crime, nor made any defence, but, on the contrary, admitted his guilt, expressing the utmost penitence for what he had done, he was condemned and executed in the ordinary manner.

It was currently reported, that during one of his examinations before the Council, when the Earl of Dorset menaced him with the rack, as by the King's order, he stoutly declared he did not believe that so good and gracious a Prince would allow his subjects to be tortured contrary to law. " I do affirm," he said, " upon my salvation, that my purpose was not known to any man; but," he added, "if you do put me on the rack, I will accuse you, my Lord of Dorset, and none but yourself." In that quaint old book, Aubrey's 'Miscellanies,' published in 1721, there is a wild story of the warning or prophecy by the ghost of Sir G. Villiers, father of the Duke of Buckingham, to an old friend of his, which may be introduced here as a sample of the marvellous credulity by which such a tale could gain circulation.


Aubrey tells it as follows, with the remark that he had heard it from others besides Sir W. Dugdale, whom he quotes as his chief authority.

"To one Mr. Towes, who had been schoolfellow with Sir G. Villiers, the father of the first Duke of Buckingham, and was his friend and neighbour, as he lay in his bed awake, and it was daylight, came into his chamber the phantom of his dear friend Sir G. Villiers. Said Mr. Towes to him, 'Why, you are dead. What makes you here ?' Said the Knight, 'I am dead; but I cannot rest in peace, for the wickedness and abomination of my son George, at Court. I do appear to you to tell him of it, and to advise and detort him from his evil ways.' Said Mr. Towes, 'The Duke will not believe me, but will say that I am either mad or doat.' Said Sir George, ' Go to him from me, and tell him by such a token' (a mole he had in some secret place, which none but himself knew of). Accordingly, Mr. Towes went to the Duke, who laughed at his message. At his return home, the phantom appeared again, and told him ' that the Duke would be stabbed' (he drew out a dagger) 'a quarter of a year after, and you shall outlive him half a year; and the warning that you shall have of your death will be, that your nose will fall a bleeding.' All which accordingly fell out so. This account I have had, in the main, from two or three; but Sir W. Dugdale affirms what I have here taken from him to be true; and that the apparition told him of several things to come, which proved true; e.g. of a prisoner in the Tower that should be delivered. This


Mr. Towes had so often the ghost of his old friend appear to him, that it was not at all terrible to him. He was Surveyor of the Works at Windsor (by the favour of the Duke). Being there, sitting in the hall, he cried out, 'The Duke of Buckingham is stabbed !' He was stabbed, as after was known, at that very moment that Mr. Towes cried out."